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Balibo families dispute return of loved ones

Sydney Morning Herald - October 16, 2012

Michael Bachelard, Jakarta – Shirley Shackleton is the only of the relatives of the Balibo Five who wants the men's grave dug up and their remains returned to Australia, according to the brother of another of the victims.

Paul Stewart is the brother of sound recordist Tony Stewart, who was killed with Ms Shackleton's husband Greg in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

"The Balibo families have discussed this at length and we don't agree with Shirley," Mr Stewart told The Age/Herald yesterday.

Another relative, Greig Cunningham, the brother of cameraman Gary, also strongly rejected the proposal, saying Ms Shackleton was just "doing her usual widow routine".

"This has been something she has perfected over the years and good luck to her, but when she crosses the line and involves our family that is not, and never will be acceptable."

Ms Shackleton travelled to Jakarta on Sunday (Oct 14) to visit the grave and told journalists she would not rest until the remains of her husband were returned to Australia. She has enlisted the support of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon as well as human rights activists in Jakarta, and held meetings with Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

But the gravestone suggests all five of the dead men are interred in the same south Jakarta grave, and Mr Cunningham said that the remains "whatever or whoever's they are should not be disturbed but left in peace".

Mr Stewart said it was "extremely disappointing" that Ms Shackleton and Senator Xenophon did not warn them that the story would appear, "so I could have warned my 84-year-old mother, who is in ill health, that there was a call to tamper with her son's remains".

He was most angry with Senator Xenophon for teaming up with Ms Shackleton to "trick the Australian media into running their piece".

Mr Stewart said his family would prefer that the "huge cost of digging up the remains" be spent on "the living East Timorese who need it".

Mr Cunningham also criticised Ms Shackleton for her proposal to DNA-test the remains saying, "we have been through some time ago and Shirley is well aware of the complexities involved".

Mr Cunningham added that it was not obvious where the remains would go if they were identified, as members of the families live in different parts of the world.

Mr Cunningham said his focus remained on bringing the men who murdered his brother to justice. This was the recommendation of a NSW Coroner in 2007. The Australian Federal Police began an investigation in 2009, but, according to Mr Cunningham there is still no progress – something he put down to political considerations.

"The lack of will on the part of successive Australian and Indonesian Governments is not something we will accept," he said.

"Though we don't doubt the AFP and their ability and willingness, it is their political masters who should be fronting us and the public to explain why they are more than happy to provide justice, counselling and memorials for the victims of the Bali bombings but are happy to bury the truth of the Balibo Five in some other unmarked grave in Canberra's archives. We want that issue to be at the forefront as we mourn Gary tomorrow."

Senator Xenophon said he understood the anger of the other relatives, but believed Ms Shackleton had a right to raise the issue. He would welcome meeting the other family members to discuss the issue.

"This has opened up the issue and, though it may be painful now, it might lead to a resolution that could help all parties," Senator Xenophon said.